Consider these reasons to visit Guadalajara: affordability, history and culture, and delicious Mexican cuisine, all just waiting to be discovered.
What to do in Guadalajara, Mexico? Our guest post author, Wendy Lee, recommends you tour Guadalajara attractions in the city’s historic center, and select from the best day trips from Guadalajara to discover outstanding experiences in Jalisco. Read on for the many reasons to visit Guadalajara Wendy shares with us.
Since we live in Southern California, we’ve been fortunate to visit Mexico many times. For a recent birthday celebration, I wanted to explore somewhere new in this fascinating country and selected Guadalajara. Despite being the second largest city in Mexico I discovered that it’s not on the radar for many Americans. I think that’s unfortunate and I hope to persuade more people–in the U.S. and beyond–to consider a trip to Guadalajara. This city is very affordable, offers a significant number of cultural sites and delivers delicious food at all price points.
Tour Guadalajara Attractions: The Historic Core
We opted to stay in the historic core of the city which placed us in walking distance of many major sites. The historic core is full of plazas where locals and visitors alike gather to relax and enjoy live entertainment, one of the best things to do in Guadalajara. One night may offer traditional mariachi music and the next a D.J. playing Mexican hip hop. Scattered throughout are dancers, drummers and guitarists.
The centerpiece of any historic core tour: Guadalajara Cathedral which was completed in 1618. Surrounding the cathedral are four plazas; de la Constitucion, Guadalajara, Rotonda de los Jalisciences Ilustres, and de la Liberacion. We most enjoyed Plaza de la Liberacion which is the largest and most scenic.
The cathedral is not only beautiful to look at, but it’s also a busy hub of religious life for locals. Unlike many of the European cathedrals we’ve visited that appear full of tourists, churches in Guadalajara offer worship services most days of the week and often multiple times a day. When you’re considering what to do in Guadalajara, remember the small chapels surrounding the main altar are frequently busy as well. Visitors to the area churches should proceed cautiously.
Additional sites in the historic core include the lovely Teatro Degollado, several museums and smaller churches. Depending on your schedule, there is enough to do in this area of Guadalajara to take several hours or even a few days.
If you’re looking for a boutique hotel Guadalajara offers historic and modern options in the center of the city. Our lodging, Hotel Morales, was a historic building dating back to 1888. Another popular historic accommodation, Hotel de Mendoza, has an interior courtyard with a pool.
10 Best Hotels in Guadalajara
For a TripAdvisor listing of the 10 best hotels in Guadalajara, click here.
One of the Most Popular Guadalajara Attractions: Tlaquepaque
About six miles southeast of the city center is an area called Tlaquepaque, originally built during the Spanish colonial period as a place for the wealthy to escape during the summer. Many of the lovely colonial era houses have been converted into trendy boutiques, art galleries, and terrific restaurants, creating one of the most popular places to visit in Guadalajara. Most of the stores and restaurants are along the colorful Independencia Ave., a pedestrian only thoroughfare.
But the heart of this area is Jardin Hidalgo, a plaza filled with fountains, small gardens and a large gazebo in the center. When you’re considering what to do in Guadalajara, plan to visit multiple times for different experiences. During our first visit to Tlaquepaque we enjoyed watching eight couples tango dancing in front of the gazebo. The plaza is also filled with street food vendors selling barbecued corn, drinks, pastries, and much more. We enjoyed this area so much we returned a second time!
Best Day Trips From Guadalajara – Tequila and Guachimontones
When you’re visiting Guadalajara, don’t forget the state of Jalisco also has much to offer. We opted for two day trips, one to the town of Tequila and one to the Guachimontones pyramids. Many visitors enjoy making a day trip to Lake Chapala and Ajijic, a scenic area popular with American expats, as well.
One of the best reasons to visit Guadalajara is tequila! There are many ways to learn about tequila as well as explore its namesake town. We joined a small group tour. Our tour began about 10 a.m. in morning in Guadalajara with a one-hour drive to the agave fields. Here we were met by a jimador (traditional agave farmer) who demonstrated how the agave is harvested. Large fields filled with the blue/green agave plants set against a backdrop of the nearby volcano (now dormant) made a lovely setting for this demonstration. Our time here was brief but very informative.
Next, we drove into the town of Tequila. Our three hours in town included time for lunch, an opportunity to explore the local sites and finally a tour of the Jose Cuervo distillery. The main square of the town was charming and we found the distillery tour very interesting. My only complaint here was the large number of people who arrive for the sole purpose of drinking multiple tequila beverages on one of the many day trips from Guadalajara. Many of them have arrived on one of the tour trains that have already been offering alcoholic beverages. The scene reminded me of U.S. college students in beachside towns during spring break.
Of the places to visit in Guadalajara, my preferred day trip was definitely the one to Guachimontones pyramids. While the locals have always known of these circular, stepped pyramids, formal archeological study of them did not begin until 1996. These pyramids were built by people of the Teuchitlan tradition. These pyramids are usually found in small groupings and were believed to be a sacred space. Aerial photography has documented 400 sets of these pyramids throughout the state of Jalisco. Study of them has provided some idea of this culture, but much more is still to be learned.
In order to protect the integrity of these pyramids, most cannot be climbed. However, the largest one in the area had already been highly damaged and therefore visitors are allowed to climb it. From the top we enjoyed an expansive view of the green pyramids, the local village and the nearby lake. There is also a museum about these pyramids which provides illustrations and information about the culture. To learn more about these pyramids and our day trip experience, see our write-up here.
Foodies: The Best Places to Visit in Guadalajara are Affordable Restaurants with Delicious Mexican Cuisine
I have always loved Mexican food and believe it to be one of the best cuisines in the world. So it was not a hardship to eat three (or more) meals a day for the duration of our trip. You won’t believe how affordable good food is when you’re visiting Guadalajara!
We had a wide range of food experiences, from street vendors to one of the highest rated restaurants in the city. We also made it a point to try some of the local specialities like birria and tortas ahogadas. The first is a spicy goat stew and the latter a pork sandwich covered in a red chile sauce.
When you’re considering things to do in Guadalajara I’d recommend at least one meal in the higher end restaurants in Tlaquepaque–our favorite was Casa Luna. There are several highly rated options here and many also offer a lovely decor.
But I would also recommend a meal at Mercado San Juan de Dios. This is an enormous two-story market packed with 2,800 stalls. The first floor is mostly merchandise and the second floor is food. We walked around until finding a woman making huaraches, something I had never tried before. These begin with a thick, oval shaped piece of masa dough fried and then covered with smashed pinto beans, a meat of your choice, a generous portion of cotija cheese, cilantro and green salsa. We sat down, ordered, watched every step of our entree being prepared and finally enjoyed a delicious meal. This is clearly a place for locals which pretty much guarantees an authentic experience.
Don’t Hesitate to Visit and Tour Guadalajara!
Guadalajara exceeded my expectations. The rich architectural heritage in the city, ancient history outside the city and delicious food everywhere make this a world class destination that is yet unknown to many. I say this while also acknowledging that there is poor public and tourism infrastructure. Locals blame this on government corruption which is highly unfortunate. But these challenges did not alter my overall opinion of this city and I hope that more dollars from the tourism industry could potentially improve the infrastructure and raise the profile of the city. As many cities around the world struggle with far too many tourists, this is a place waiting to be discovered.
Author Bio: We’re Wendy and Jason Lee and we are Empty Nesters who love to travel. We both work full-time, but do our best to carve out plenty of time to explore locally, nationally and around the world. Most of the time we travel as a couple, but when schedules permit, we also enjoy traveling as a family with our two grown children. At this point in our lives we have more control of our schedules and the resources to see the world, so we want to make the most of every minute. Camping, backpacking and staying in hostels aren’t really our style. We prefer nice hotels or AirBnB’s and certainly enjoy unique tours, good drinks, and eating well. When traveling farther afield isn’t possible, we instead opt to explore our own backyard, Southern California.